This Is Why No One Answers the Phone Anymore

The hand set and computer control box of a phone bank system, Greenville, Ohio. (AP Photo/Skip Peterson)

Americans got 47.8 billion robocalls last year, many of them falsely claiming to be from well-known brands and sites like Marriott and Trip Advisor to get people to stay on the line. When Trip Advisor started getting complains about “their” sales tactics, they put internal investigator Fred Garvin on the case.

“This is TripAdvisor,” a chipper automated female voice said, and today was Garvin’s lucky day: He’d been awarded thousands of TripAdvisor credits for an exclusive vacation to the sunny Caribbean!

It was Garvin’s lucky day. He’d been collecting information for more than nine months, but everything he knew was secondhand. He had never heard the messages himself or been able to tie the Mexican resorts directly to the call centers and the fraudulent use of TripAdvisor’s name. Earlier in the summer, the complaints seemed to have stopped, and Garvin worried that the scammers had gone dark before he could pin them down. Now they were calling his cell phone.

Following the prompts, Garvin was transferred to a live agent, who asked his age range and if he made at least $60,000 a year. He passed the test and was quickly put on the line with a second live agent—the charmer. “You’ve won an all-inclusive trip to one of our fabulous resorts,” the agent said. “What do you like to do on vacation, Mr. Garvin?”

The calls were eventually traced to Adrian Abramovich, who the FCC identified as “the source of 96,758,223 illegal robocalls.” At Wired, Alex Palmer follows the VoIP trail, from the initial complaints against Trip Advisor to Abramovich’s downfall.

Abramovich arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building looking bewildered, as you might expect of someone compelled by congressional subpoena. In the past few years, there hadn’t been much that Democrats and Republicans in Congress could agree on. Health care, immigration, taxes, deficits—every debate, every topic and idea was us vs. them. Here, finally, was an issue that perfectly bridged the partisan divide: a burning hatred of robo­calls. As soon as the hearing began, the senators pounced, clearly relishing the chance to lay into the stout man at the witness table. Abramovich, wearing a suit and glasses and with his hair pulled back into a neat man bun, looked trapped. Senator Richard Blumenthal kicked things off. Abramovich, Blumenthal said, had assembled a “phenomenal record of consumer abuse.” Looking directly at him, he declared: “You have become the face of this problem.”

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